#47 – Jorge Ben – Errare humanum est

from A Tábua de Esmeralda (Philips, 1974)

Original lyrics:

Lá lá lá
Tem uns dias
Que eu acordo
Pensando e querendo saber
De onde vem
O nosso impulso
De sondar o espaço
A começar pelas sombras sobre as estrelas-las-las-las
E depensar que eram os deuses astronautas
E que se pode voar sozinho até as estrelas-las-las
Ou antes dos tempos conhecidos
Conhecidos
Vieram os deuses de outras galáxias-xias-xias
Ou de um planeta de possibilidades impossíveis
E de pensar que não somos os primeiros seres terrestres
Pois nós herdamos uma herança cósmica
Errare humanum est
Errare humanum est
Nem deuses
Nem astronautas
Ô ô ô ô
Eram os deuses astronautas
Lá lá lá lá
Nem deuses
Nem astronautas
Ô ô ô ô
Eram os deuses astronautas
Lá lá lá lá
Eram os deuses astronautas
Ná ná ná ná ná
Dez
Ná ná ná ná ná
Nove
Ná ná ná ná ná
Oito
Ná ná ná ná ná
Sete
Ná ná ná ná ná
Seis
Ná ná ná ná ná
Cinco
Ná ná ná ná ná
Três
Ná ná ná ná ná
Dois
Ná ná ná ná ná
Um
Ná ná ná ná ná
Zero

Translated lyrics:

There are some days that I wake up
Trying to think and desiring to know
From where comes the impulse
To probe the outer space
Beginning with the shadows over the stars
And to think that the Gods were astronauts
And that you can fly by yourself to the stars
Or even think about before times known
Did the gods came from another galaxy
Or from a planet of impossible possibilities?
And to think that we’re not the first terrestrial beings
Because we inherited a cosmic heritage
Errare humanum est
Errare humanum est
Neither gods nor astronauts
Ô ô ô ô
Were the gods astronauts?
Lá lá lá lá
Neither gods nor astronauts
Ô ô ô ô
Were the gods astronauts?
Lá lá lá lá
Were the gods astronauts?
Ná ná ná ná
Ten
Ná ná ná ná
Nine
Ná ná ná ná
Eight
Ná ná ná ná
Seven
Ná ná ná ná
Six
Ná ná ná ná
Five
Ná ná ná ná
Four
Ná ná ná ná
Three
Ná ná ná ná
Two
Ná ná ná ná
One
Ná ná ná ná
Zero

The third track on Tábua de Esmeralda is one of the most concept-heavy songs on the album. It introduces many of the elements of Jorge Ben’s philosophy and curiosity around this time. It is also a document of the penetration of the works of Erich von Däniken in Brazil in the 70s.

As many of you may know, Erich von Däniken was one of the main publicists of the idea that ancient religion and, therefore, ancient gods were not a fabrication of the human mind, but actually aliens which helped introduce civilization to man. As you may also know from a lot of History Channel programming, such an idea is obviously true.

giorgio_tsoukalos_aliens

Erich von Däniken popularity skyrocketed in 1968, when he published Chariots of the Gods?, in which he explained his theories. I’ve read the book when I was a teenager and was deeply impressed by the sheer volume of evidences he finds. Some of them are really convincing, like that Mayan stone table that could represent an astronaut on a starship.

1-12_pacal

Von Däniken’s book was translated in Brazil as Eram os deuses astronautas?, which is rendered in the lyrics when Jorge Ben says “Were the gods astronauts?”.

I love such ancient aliens conspiracy theories. But as a historian myself I’m troubled by their lack of imagination (yes), because it presupposes that human history is a straight line that goes from one place to another in a linear narrative of progress. What is implicitly stated in those theories is that ancient civilizations could not have technological features that we have now, because they were primitive. But ancient people were not necessarily primitive, they only had different cultures than us in the same brains we have. Conspiracy theories, even though they always propose some alternatives to what has really happened, usually lack the imagination to think of really different alternatives to what is already here.

The other reference included in the lyrics is to Seneca’s dictum that to err is human. The full sentence goes like this: “Errare humanum est, sed in errore perseverare diabolicum”, which can be translated as “To err is human, but to persist in error is diabolical”.

I think that what Jorge Ben is intending to do, relating the ancient astronaut hypothesis and what Seneca says, is to imply how the ancient gods were fundamental to the constitution of modern human beings, something von Däniken states has happened at a biological level. In Jorge Ben’s lyrics, however, I think it happens something like what happens in the movie Prometheus. The ancient aliens are our fathers, and our faults — and our virtues — depend on their intentions, even if they are far removed from us right now.

To conclude such way out reflections, I really like the way Jorge Ben uses echo and reverb on this song. They mesh with the samba structure of the song in a beautiful way.